We continue our visit with Lowell Ford of Illahe Vineyard in the proposed Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA in the Willamette Valley, by leaving the upper level of their gravity flow winery and heading into their new wine cave completed in 2015. Both the winery with it’s barrel shaped ceiling and the wine cave, set into the hill behind the winery, were designed by Laurence Ferar and Associates from Portland.
The Cave is cool and the walls are lined with barrels and our voices echo as we enter it’s dark interior. Once inside the cave, even before Kathy turns on the lights, you find there is still light, due to an skylight at the end of the cave inset into the ceiling. There is a sense of reverence in here. While the cave can hold around 200 barrels, at this time of year there are fewer, so we have ample room to quietly walk in and take in the space.
Lowell tells us how the cave was installed in three sections that were precast, with rebar sliding into place to fit the puzzle pieces together. There are wall sconces to light the space, although those get turned off when they are working on the 1899. The Bon Sauvage, Percheron and 1899, all barrel age here before release.
We leave the cool confines of the cave to walk out to the Vineyard, where Lowell shows us some bunches that are still full of bright green hard berries (it was early July when we visited). These bunches are filled with evenly sized berries, something he’s pretty happy about. “I don’t see any hens and chicks!” “That’s good news!”
We proceed to talk about vineyard maintenance, the use of sulfur to prevent downy mildew and other practices. They are LIVE Certified, and they have 6.5 acres that are farmed organically. The difficulty with that, it that to keep away the downy mildew, and other issues, they must spray every 7 days, which means they have to run a tractor through. These are the difficult choices in agriculture do you use the organic sprays which must be used more often to be effective, but then cause you to get out the tractor twice a week and burn fossil fuels?
We take in the view again as we move to the beautiful front patio, where we sit down and talk about the 1899. (I promised to give you some insights on this wine right?)
Illahe 1899 Pinot Noir
What he came up with was the process in which we take the winemaking activity and break it down very distinctly into it’s individual components. And there’s the genius of it.
Lowell Ford, speaking of his son and winemaker Brad Ford and his idea to create the 1899 Pinot Noir
The 1899 is made with the resources that would have been available in 1899. That means, without modern equipment and without electricity. Bea and Doc, the Percheron Draft Horses do a bit of work helping to get the grapes to the winery. In 2017 Bea had a lame leg on the day they were harvesting, and couldn’t pull the wagon. So while the harvest crew kept harvesting, the winemaking team got busy hauling the small buckets of ripe berries up the hill from the vineyard into the winery.
Once in the winery, everything gets de-stemmed by hand and goes into their wooden fermenting tanks. Here they are foot stomped.
After a 10 day soak they have a wooden basket press and then it is pumped into barrel. They have a bicycle that provides the power for the pumping and there are races to see who can fill a barrel fastest.
Bottling, corking and labeling are done by hand. The label is printed by a letterpress.
Then how to get it to market? They don’t skimp on this process either. It travels by Stagecoach to the river, by canoe 96 miles on the river and then by cargo bike into Portland.
We got the story from Lowell, but if you want to check out Brad (Lowell’s son and the winemaker at Illahe) you can watch this great video that they produced. Illahe 1899 Pinot Noir
For more details on Illahe you can check out these additional pieces we have done on this remarkable vineyard and winery.
More from Crushed Grape Chronicles on Illahe Vineyards
- Illahe Vineyards – Stepping back to a simpler time
- Crushed Grape Chronicles & a visit to Illahe Vineyards
- Illahe – flowers, deep roots, happy cows and birds…oh and wine grapes.
- Illahe Vineyards – Into the Winery
- Soupe aux choux and a Grüner Veltliner from Illahe
Where and how to find them!
Illahe Vineyards is located at 3275 Ballard Rd, Dallas, OR 97338.
Give Kathy a call for an appointment at 503-831-1248 or drop her an email at [email protected].
Tastings are $25 per person and are waived with a $100 purchase.
While they don’t serve food, they have a lovely patio with tables overlooking the vineyard, where you can bring your own lunch and enjoy the view.